Price Tag for Worker Pain Put at $60 Billion a Year

How much will you give me for a headache? A backache? A case of arthritis? According to a new study, employees' aches and pains cost employers more than $60 billion a year.

That hefty price tag mostly comes from slowed productivity due to common types of pain headaches, back and musculoskeletal pain, and arthritis experienced by employees who are at work but not performing up to their normal standards, say researchers, who published their article in the Nov. 12 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The study results are culled from a random telephone survey of 28,902 workers.

Walter F. Stewart, PhD, MPH; Judith A. Ricci, ScD, MS; Elsbeth Chee, ScD; David Morganstein, MS; Richard Lipton, M.D., found that 13 percent of the total workforce experienced a loss in productive time during a two-week period due to a common pain condition. Headache was the most common (5.4 percent) pain condition resulting in lost productive time. It was followed by back pain (3.2 percent), arthritis pain (2 percent), and other musculoskeletal pain (2 percent). Workers claim they lost about 4.6 hours/week due to pain-related conditions. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of respondents reported experiencing pain in the past two weeks.

"Overall, the estimated $61.2 billion per year in pain-related lost productive time in our study accounts for 27 percent of the total estimated work-related cost of pain conditions in the U.S. workforce," the researchers concluded.

"Pain is costly to employers," they added. "This is a first step to provide employers with a more concrete understanding of the costs they face from health conditions in their workforce and to begin to consider how health care dollars can be more effectively targeted to population-specific needs. Helping employers understand the cost of health-related lost productive time may encourage them to make more effective use of the health care dollars they invest in their workforce. "As the primary purchaser of health care, employers are well positioned to demand programs that reduce the impact of common treatable pain conditions in the workplace."

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